Federal Reserve "Healthy Communities" Events: A Q&A With Elizabeth Sobel Blum

Sep 20, 2011, 2:55 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

file Elizabeth Sobel Blum, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

A movement to improve health at the community level has been gaining traction, including new efforts to improve not only access to health care but also access to resources that promote health, such as safe housing, farmers’ markets and recreational facilities.

A major force behind this effort is an emerging collaboration between the public health, health care, community development and economic development industries. The Federal Reserve System has been convening leaders from these industries to discuss collaboration to reduce health disparities and create healthier communities for all.

To date, the Federal Reserve Banks of Boston, New York and San Francisco have held regional meetings. On September 28, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas will host “Healthy Communities: the Intersection of Community Development and Health” at its Houston Branch. NewPublicHealth talked with Elizabeth Sobel Blum from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas to learn why the Dallas Fed is involved in this movement and to hear about her expectations for this conference.

NewPublicHealth: Why is the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas interested in health?

Elizabeth Sobel Blum: At the Dallas Fed’s Community Development Office, our role is to support the Federal Reserve System’s economic growth objectives by promoting community and economic development and fair and impartial access to credit. Our constituents serve low- and moderate-income individuals, often by providing or facilitating affordable housing, personal financial products and services, small business development products and services and community facilities.

The individuals community developers reach are the same individuals who face major health disparities. While access to health care is one component that explains these disparities, the social determinants of health – where people work, live, learn and play – can play a strong role as well. The more opportunities individuals have to make healthy choices, the more likely they can live longer and healthier lives. These social determinants of health are the nexus of the community development and health sector’s joint interests. It is in this space that collaboration is imperative. And the health of our country and economy depend on it: in general, wealthier people are healthier and healthier people are more economically productive.

NewPublicHealth: Why are you focused on healthy communities now?

Elizabeth Sobel Blum: With high levels of underemployment and unemployment, poverty, income inequality, health disparities, and obesity and associated health problems, the physical capital and human capital needs of our district are growing. At the same time, our community development and health sectors are facing financial challenges that constrain their abilities to make a significant and sustainable impact – especially on their own. By thoughtfully assessing each other’s strengths, resources and expertise and strategizing how to leverage them, both sectors have the potential to increase the scale, impact and sustainability of their efforts.

NewPublicHealth: What are the major features of your Healthy Communities conference on September 28?

Elizabeth Sobel Blum:David Williams from Harvard University will launch our conversation about the intersection of community development and health. He will outline what the sectors have in common, how their success is interdependent and why collaboration is imperative.

Our event will feature successful collaborations between these sectors, such as when they use health impact assessments, create opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity and improve access to health care. Leaders from the government, academic, medical, insurance and community development and finance industries will highlight their successes, challenges and plans for the future.

Our speakers are among these industries’ top leaders, and we are honored that all accepted our invitation to share their knowledge and insights. For the list of speakers, see our agenda.

At the end of the day, we will focus on next steps. Our goal is to learn how participants would like to continue the conversation and how we can help make that happen. The success of our event will largely be reflected in the conversations, convenings and collaborations that it sparks.

NewPublicHealth: What kinds of collaborations between the community development and health sectors have you seen in your district?

Elizabeth Sobel Blum:There are a number of non-legislative efforts in our district – Texas, northern Louisiana and southern New Mexico – that foster healthier communities. Examples are the $33 million national Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities program, our dozens of Texas-based community health centers that generate an estimated annual economic impact of $560 million in the state and the work of Vision North Texas’ Health Research Team, which established guiding principles that promote health and well-being across the region’s 16 counties. Some of these efforts will be presented at our September 28 conference. For details on the examples mentioned above, see my publication Building Healthier Communities from the Ground Up.

NewPublicHealth: What change would you like to see as the result of this conference?

Elizabeth Sobel Blum:Our event is a clarion call for everyone – academics, businesses, community-based organizations, governments, health care providers, individuals, philanthropies, schools – to work together to reduce health disparities and create healthier communities for all. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America recommended such collaboration and has outlined how to do so in its final report. At the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, our role is to convene the community development and health sectors across our district to help advance conversations and collaborations – for the health of our communities and therefore the health of our economy.

>>Read a Q&A on the San Francisco Healthy Communities Conference this summer.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.